Fracking application rejected by Lancashire county council

Originally posted in The Guardian on 29th June 2015

 

Lancashire county council has rejected a planning application by shale gas explorer Cuadrilla to frack in the county, in a major blow to what would have been the UK’s biggest round of fracking so far.

Hundreds of anti-fracking campaigners outside the county hall in Preston, where the verdict was announced, reacted with delight and cheers, and people in the council chamber applauded.

The surprise rejection regards a site at Preston New Road, near Little Plumpton on the Fylde, where Cuadrilla had hoped to drill four wells and undertake exploratory fracking for shale gas.

Nine of the councillors on the 14-strong development control committee voted in favour of a motion to reject the application on grounds of visual impact and unacceptable noise, and also rejected a related application for an array to monitor seismic activity.

The long-delayed decision by councillors follows their rejection last week on traffic grounds of a bid by Cuadrilla to frack at another site, Roseacre Wood, between Preston and Blackpool.

Planning officers had earlier this month recommended the council reject Roseacre Wood but approve Preston New Road.

Councillors said the grounds for refusing the application for a monitoring array at Preston New Road was that it ran contrary to planning policy EP11, in the respect that “the cumulative effect of the proposal would lead to the industrialisation of the countryside and adversely affect the landscape character.”

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Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

 

They were earlier told that rejections were likely to be appealed by Cuadrilla, which is the only company to have fracked in the UK to date. In a statement, the company said it was “surprised and disappointed” at the decision, and it remained committed to extracting shale gas in Lancashire.

“We will now take time to consider our options regarding an appeal for Preston New Road, along with also considering appeals for the planning applications recently turned down, against officer advice, for monitoring and site restoration at Grange Hill, and last week’s decision to refuse the Roseacre Wood application,” the statement said.

Centrica, which has a 25% stake in Cuadrilla, said it was extremely disappointed by the decision. “It has taken a significant amount of investment to get us where we are today so we will be working closely with our partners at Cuadrilla before making any decisions on our next steps.”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of Ukoog, which represents the shale industry, called on the government to review the planning process. “This after 15 months of a long, drawn-out process cannot be right, and I urge the government to urgently review the process of decision-making.”

Alister Scott, professor of environmental and spatial planning at Birmingham City university said an appeal was certain. Professor Andy Aplin, director of the Centre for Research in Earth Energy Systems at Durham University, said a legal challenge was likely.

Environmentalists gave the decision a warm welcome.

Liz Hutchins, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, spoke from outside the town hall where she said the atmosphere was “absolutely electric” and a “massive celebration.”

“This is a bigger win than anyone was expecting, it shows the huge strength of feeling here. There was no way councillors could go against feelings of local people. This is a real blow for Cuadrilla and government.

“Obviously Cuadrilla will try to appeal, and that will go to the national planning inspectorate, and we want a commitment from David Cameron that they won’t intervene in the wishes of local people here.”

An anti-fracking protester blows bubbles during a demonstration outside County Hall in Preston, Britain June 24, 2015. Lancashire County Council is debating an application by shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources to frack on the Fylde coast, local media reported.

An anti-fracking protester blows bubbles during a demonstration outside County Hall in Preston, where councillors rejected Cuadrilla’s application to frack. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

 

Daisy Sands, Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner, said “This decision is a Waterloo for the fracking industry and a triumph for local democracy.”

The Green party MP Caroline Lucas described the decision as a fantastic victory and said: “The decision proves that, in spite of all the government’s efforts to force through fracking, local communities can prevent it from going ahead.”

Around 500 people were protesting outside the town hall, according to organisers. More than 50,000 people signed a petition calling for the fracking applications to be rejected. The share price of iGas, the UK’s biggest shale company, dropped sharply after the council’s announcement.

Several councillors on Monday morning said coming to the decision had been extremely difficult, with one saying it had been “one of the most difficult decisions of our lives”. One member of the committee last week said they had faced intolerable pressure on the case.

Marcus Johnstone, a member of the development control committee, said the application had been of the biggest it had ever considered: “The decision to refuse this application has been reached by a vote of the committee, which is composed of elected councillors, and each member of the committee has ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they have heard and whether they think the proposal is acceptable in planning terms, and to the people they represent.”

David Cameron has said the Conservatives are “going all out for shale”, and the energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd promised after being appointed that she would “deliver shale”.

Andrea Leadsom, energy minister, said the decision was disappointing. “However, shale gas has huge potential in the UK, and is an opportunity to develop a new, homegrown energy source that would displace foreign imports and create tens of thousands of jobs. I’m confident that potential will be realised – and the government will back it.”

Both frontrunners for the leaderships of the Labour party and the Lib Dems support a ban on the controversial technique for extracting shale gas, which involves pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to fracture shale rock and release gas.

Lucy Powell, the Labour MP for Central Manchester, said she was pleased by the result and that “much more evidence [was] required on [fracking’s] impact”.

Management consultancy Poyry said the decision was a big surprise and “a serious setback for shale gas in the UK and many must be wondering if it can ever reach production phase.”

Prof Jim Watson, research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said: “Today’s decision illustrates yet again that shale gas is highly controversial, and that has implications for how quickly the shale gas can be developed. Whilst this shows that local decision making about our energy choices will continue to matter, this particular decision is likely to be challenged.”

Any appeal by Cuadrilla could land on the desk of Greg Clark, secretary of state for communities and local government, if he decides to “call in” the appeal.

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